Helsinki’s Night Visions International Film Festival forms one of the world’s leading events for action, fantasy, science fiction and cult cinema. Held biannually, it attracts some of the biggest personalities in genre film.
Finland has made a name for itself with a variety of film events, including Love & Anarchy, Espoo Ciné and the Midnight Sun Film Festival, held in Finnish Lapland. Night Visions deserves to be mentioned among these top names. Guests have included directors Dario Argento, Paul Verhoeven and Lloyd Kaufman, actor Christopher Lee, and director and actor John Waters.
The festival was born in the spring of 1997, starting out as a single night of back-to-back programming from dusk to dawn. For audiences starved for big-screen genre films, Night Visions shone a welcome spotlight on less likely favourites from both Finland and abroad.
“We were young and crazy enough to think that this was a good idea, even though we didn’t have any financial backing,” recalls festival director Mikko Aromaa, who founded Night Visions with a handful of other self-proclaimed “film geeks.” “It seemed completely logical that we could finance all of this with box office revenues only.”
Applause growing louder
It immediately became apparent that Aromaa and his friends were not alone. By the autumn of 1998 the festival had outgrown the small cinema where it started, and shifted its base to Finland’s oldest cinema house, Maxim.
Subsequent years saw attendance numbers growing gradually, before the decision was made in 2008 to go full throttle and expand the festival.
“We are now the second-biggest film festival in Helsinki that focuses on fiction films,” says Aromaa. “Nobody would have believed that if you had told them ten years ago.”
Currently around 65 features are included in the line-up each year, with a total number of admissions in the vicinity of 14,500 for its spring and autumn editions. Along with the growth of the audience, the cinematic offerings have expanded, with the programme now incorporating some mainstream elements as well.
“We’re the Flow Festival of film,” Aromaa explains, tipping his hat to Helsinki’s renowned music festival. “We try to be on the edge, introducing cool things to the audience, but still hold on to the backbone of the festival, the genre stuff.”
True to its humble roots, Night Visions remains noncompetitive. However, the movie-goers get to vote for the Night Visions Audience Award.
Thanks to Night Visions, the local genre-film scene has enjoyed a subsequent boost in profile.
“The festival is important for Finnish genre films because, in addition to great programming, it always brings some of the more forgotten, awesome films back to the limelight,” says Timo Vuorensola, director of 2011’s homegrown cult favourite Iron Sky. “Night Visions is the best film festival experience I’ve ever been to. It’s the right size, has the reputation to get good guests and is always interesting and surprising, programming-wise.”
And so, whether it’s sharing a drink with Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, spending a week in Helsinki with cult actor Udo Kier or enjoying the company of the revered John Waters, festival director Aromaa clearly loves what he’s doing.
It’s also clear that he has a grander vision for Night Visions.
“There are still a lot of possibilities to make it even greater,” he says. “It is still a hobby to me, but it is close to becoming a profession. It’s a labour of love that has become very significant to people other than myself.”
By James O’Sullivan, October 2014